The purpose of this post is to introduce you to some of the jargon, tricks and techniques that SEO spammers use so that you can more easily spot them when they offer you their services. Of course, the easiest option is to simply ignore all unsolicited offers via email of any kind!
Ever since Google announced its PageRank algorithm in 1998 people have been seeking ways to game the system. This have given rise to a whole industry of cheap SEO link building. Automated software and sweat-shops in emerging economies have been producing hundreds of thousands of new links every day. Some people have done very well from operating in this industry, and some websites have increased profits as a result of buying these services. So, what's the catch?
Well, in 2012. almost 14 years after announcing to the World that links will be used to rank pages, Google decided to start fighting back against the SEO spammers. Google's Matt Cutts announced that they were going to start re-assessing websites which have been doing too much SEO. The SEO community are calling this an SEO Over Optimisation Penalty.
What Is SEO Over Optimisation?
Let me first make it clear that there are a lot of good ways of doing SEO. Good SEO is really a part of more traditional marketing. The goal is to get more websites talking about, and linking, to your business.
Over-optimisation may include:
- Building too many unnatural links
- Too many keyword specific links
- Too much SEO copy on a page
Unnatural links are ultimately any links which are not added without your direct influence. This is why we so often talk about how great content is good for SEO - people talk about and link to great content.
It is very easy to build a lot of unnatural links very quickly. One of the most infamous pieces of software is XRumer. This is a tool which will add your links to forum profiles and blog comments on a massive scale. You only need to look at some adverts for Xrumer services to get an idea of the level it works at. Here is an advert on Fiverr.com, a website which allows people to anonymously sell services to others, for just $5 a job.
Yes, that is up to 100,000 links for just $5. Sounds like a bargain!
Well, some sites have done well out of these services. They build links which use the best converting search keywords as the anchor text and boost search engine rankings. This is the sort of link building that Google is, or at least should be, working on in their over-optimisation project.
You may think that these changes will reduce these services, however, many unethical SEO companies do not declare how they build links for you or warn you that changes in Google quality guidelines could mean that your site could be penalised.
Not so long ago it was argued that these services were at best just a waste of time and effort. However, already some SEO's are talking about negative SEO, and how using these services can harm a business.
SEO Scam Signals
Personally, I use this simple rule: If someone emails me offering an SEO service, it is a scam and not worth replying to. This rule obviously does not apply to companies you have already dealt with, such as your marketing agency or web developer (who may know a fair bit about SEO too).
Some SEO Email Scams:
Some people just request simple link exchanges. Here is a recent one I received;
Subject: Need links on your siteMessage: hiI am interested link exchange with your sites. waiting for your positive reply
While some link exchanging with good quality and well respected is not really a problem, you can guarantee that this offer is only going to benefit one person. They will probably ask you to link first, then make excuses when your link does not appear on their site. They may even place your link on a site already penalised by Google. In short, do not link exchange with strangers.
Generic Email Proposal
You know how important it is to be visible. You know you need to use the internet better. But you also need to take care of your business.
You can't do both. Well, you take care of your business we'll take care of the internet for you. Our expert staff understands how to make search engines your friend.
Now, this may sound like a good service. However, more often than not this is really coming from an individual who really does not have time to do any real work on marketing and promoting your website.
They will almost definitely be using some sort of tool to quickly generate links. They will send you regular reports detailing all the links they have won for you. Well, most of those links, if not all, will be worthless. They may even harm your site. The final line looks like a Freudian slip too, "Our expert staff understands ..." sound like it could just be one person.
Business Profile Pages
There are some really sneaky SEO tricks around too. One trick involves a webmaster showing you a "resource page" that they have created about your business on their website. You follow the link and see the page with your business profile. If you then go to the home page of their site, you can see that your business profile is the latest "article" on their site. Brilliant! So you link back as requested.
However, this is another clever scam. The business profile page is not really linked on their homepage. The homepage link is only visible if you have just arrived on the homepage from the business profile page. If you open a fresh browser (delete cookies or use Chrome Incognito etc.) then your site will not be shown.
Keyword Research Companies
Another SEO spam mail can take this format:
My name is Jenny Smith and i work in the research department of a search engine optimization (SEO) company. While conducting keyword research through the Google search engine, I noticed that your website is currently showing up in the 172 position for the search term "meaningless search term" and has a Google Pagerank of 3 at this time.
Based on our experience i would personally recommend our Super Seo Package which is strong enough for bringing your website in the 1st page of Google for "meaningless search term" and other related keyword(s) that you can choose.
I have received such an email. The company in question charges up to $2900 a month. What do you get for your money? Well, they are actually very cagey about what they provide. The service is to optimise for "1-10 keywords", which can mean anything really.
While some companies will provide an excellent service, never agree to work with a company who first send such an email. You may be paying for a service that either does not produce results, with no guarantee that the work will be completed in an ethical way.
What was so strange about the email I received is that the for keyword which they picked up on, I have no need to rank for. It was for a product that I do not sell and never intend to sell, which is why I changed the keyword to "meaningless search term".
Many people offer SEO reports. With some clever advertising copy these reports can be made to sound great:
"I will complete a professional 20 page SEO Analysis of your website that will get you Google Top 10 Rankings."
However, the reports are generated automatically. They will hardly differ from the many free online SEO health checks that are on offer. These reports can only highlight some possible problems. They will never solve them for you!
Buying links that pass PageRank is against Google's quality guidelines. If you get caught doing it expect to receive a major search engine penalty.
Some SEO's will not tell you how they generate links. While the Xrumer blasts may not be very effective, there are more effective ways of creating links that boost a website in Google. These are usually links on established websites and blogs. However, these are usually sites that they SEO company maintain specifically for the purpose of creating links.
If you hire an SEO without setting any ground rules first you may find that you suddenly have 20 new links pointing to your site from a network of blogs on the same server. This could not result in a penalty as Google has started making moves to remove sites that use these services from the index.
Are All SEO Service and Tools Bad?
No, of course not! Tools can be used very effectively in the right hands. There is nothing wrong with an SEO who uses some form of automation, in my opinion, so long as that is not breaching any search engine quality guidelines.
So while automatically placing links on forums and blogs or generating Web 2.0 profile pages and populating them with spun (automatically re-written) content is very bad practice, SEO tools that seek out suitable website to then personally contact, for example, can be very beneficial.
Done properly, SEO is an ethical way to promote your business. It is really just a digital extension of more traditional marketing. The goal is to generate more interest in your website on the Internet and to grow its exposure over the long-term.
The tools and service which are generally offered in spam mails will at best provide a short-term boost to your search traffic. In the long-term they could harm your business permanently.
Finally, if someone is offering a service that sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is. SEO is a long-term process. High rankings cannot come overnight.
For good SEO you need a strategy before you start hiring people to start the work. A strategy should focus on your strengths, both in terms of the strengths of your business and products, and your personal strengths. There are many ways to "do" SEO. You could write promotional content, you could speak at conferences, participate in research, phone people and ask for links. Asking someone for a link really is a good idea, often people do say yes, especially if they already know you.
If you enjoyed reading this post, you may also like some of my other Search Engine People posts, such as:
- Budget SEO From Scratch The Tools I Use
- On The Road to Recovery A Panda Success Story in Two Parts
- Online Diversification A Vital Strategy For Survival
- My New Year Resolution: Be More Organized
In my next post I shall talk a little about that ways I managed to recover from the Google Panda update - On The Road to Recovery A Panda Success Story, Part II.